I’ve said before, somewhere, that it takes a special kind of confidence to choose to show with TAD loudspeakers. Specifically, the kind of ballsy that borders on cocksure. Why? Because they’re really not very system-friendly. This is not a knock on TAD — far from it. TAD have a SOTA sound. But … they’re not just revealing, they can be brutally so. Like “bag full of glass” brutal. So, whenever I walk into a demo room and I see a pair of TADs fronting the system, I admit, I get a little nervous.
At this point, I’m supposed to tell you how the Zesto room is the only room that ever got this right and how everyone else is a total donkey for even attempting it. That would have built up the drama enough that a good release would qualify Zesto as the brand to make these speakers “right”. That would have good “punch”. It’d be a cliché, but hey, what’s a little hyperbole between friends, eh what-what?
The truth is, I’ve heard these loudspeakers sound right on a couple of occasions — but only a couple, and those systems always seems to have vacuum tubes somewhere in them. There’s just something that glowing glass brings, a roundness, perhaps some dimensionality, that the TAD can really get their hooks into and bring forward into the sound stage. With some solid state — not all, but some — I’ve heard them sound thin, harsh, and/or grating. Of course, more than a little of this has to do with your personal tastes in sound — to me, speed isn’t everything and detail isn’t the end-goal. Some might only want that. Weird, but hey, I kinda want some tone blended in there. Dimensionality is also nice, too. You get the picture? TAD doesn’t emphasize, exaggerate, or expand — if your system isn’t bringing it, TAD isn’t showing it.
So, yes — Zesto is certainly one brand that gets it right — to me, at least. Much like their sweet demo at Newport, the sound here at RMAF was lovely: liquid, holographic, dynamic and detailed. This is, in my not-so-humble-opinion, a finisher system. Done, off the merry-go-round, go start investing in estate sales of giant record collections. If you have a huge room, you might want to go elsewhere, but for “normal” rooms, ska-doosh.
What I found:
- TAD CR-1 Loudspeakers ($37k + stand)
- Zesto Audio Leto preamplifier ($7,500)
- Zesto Audio Andros phono stage ($4,300)
- GamuT D200 amplifier (NFS, but was ~$6k when new)
- Merrill-Williams REAL 101 turntable ($7,200)
- Triplanar tonearm ($5,800)
- Dynavector XX2 MkII cartridge ($2,000)
- WyWires cabling (~$6,000)
The Zesto Audio Leto is new-ish; it was released earlier this year. I haven’t had much chance to play with it (yet?), but the Audiophilia team has a little write-up that hits the highlights — which are: 12dB gain, 100k ohm input impedance and 150 ohm output impedance, cross talk > 90dB and SNR 100dB below operating level, leveraging 12AX7 and 12AU7 tubes. Hand made here in the USA.
The Merrill-Williams REAL is a nifty piece of work that I talked about at the Newport Show, and quite frankly, would love to get my mitts on for a more in-depth look.
Of course, I could say that about everything in this room, with the exception of the WyWires cables — which I already have in my main rig, including a couple of Dr Sventitsky’s Bybee-enabled “Gold” wires and a yards and yards of the XHadow-terminated Silver cables linking all the components and Silver power cords bringing the juice. In the world of esoteric cabling, WyWires isn’t the least expensive going — but it’s turned out that to do better requires significantly more outlay. Just one man’s experience, to be sure, but I hope to be able to showcase that at some point. In the meantime, leave it at this — WyWires is my personal reference not just because it’s not priced as unobtanium, not just because the Sventitsky’s (both Alex and his wife, the wine importer, Nina) are just really nice people, and not just because the product works as advertised — more than that, it works extremely well — it’s all of those things. And Part-Time Audiophile is about all of those things. I’m a fan. Enough said.